The Speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila and the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio are yet to reach a common ground on allegation that the “greatest beneficiaries of the commission’s projects” are the honourable members.
Akpabio had on Monday, while appearing before the House Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission at an investigative hearing, alleged that members of the National Assembly get 60 per cent of contracts from the commission.
But Gbajabiamila, with the leave of the House on Tuesday, had asked the minister to provide details of the contracts between 24 and 48 hours.
Before the commencement of the House, Akpabio had replied to the National Assembly denying he said that the lawmakers got 60 per cent of the contracts awarded by the Niger Delta Development Commission.
The minister claimed he referred to old contracts awarded by the NDDC which had not been paid for and some of which are part of the constituency projects of the lawmakers.
At the opening of plenary, Gbajabiamila announced that Akpabio had failed to meet the ultimatum issued to him, to prove his allegation.
The speaker who announced the receipt of Akpabio’s response, Gbajabiamila said Akpabio’s response would be referred to the Committee on Ethics and Privileges to look at the merits of the minister’s arguments.
“The honorable minister has failed to respond to my requests,” he said.
The Speaker said he had consequently asked the Clerk to the House, Patrick Giwa, to meet their lawyers on the legal action against Akpabio.
Gbajabiamila said, “Last Tuesday, I issued a 48-hour ultimatum to the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs to substantiate his allegation that over 60 per cent of contracts awarded by the NDDC went to members of the National Assembly. I said then that the Honourable Minister owed it to himself and the country to provide evidence to support these serious allegations.
“The Honourable Minister has failed to respond to my request. Therefore, I must conclude that his statement intended solely to gaslight the nation to avoid accountability for the evident maladministration and malfeasance in the NDDC.”
The Speaker noted that in his time in the House, he had held every leadership position, from Minority Whip to Minority Leader, Majority Leader, and now Speaker.
Gbajabiamila said, “I recognise that the House has not always lived up to the high expectations of the Nigerian people. As much as we still have a lot to do in that regard, I refuse to sit here in good conscience and allow anyone to assassinate the character of the House, in an attempt to deflect accountability for their conduct in office. Such mendacity as was witnessed at the public hearing will not be tolerated from anybody no matter how highly placed.
“This morning, I asked the Clerk of the House to engage the services of legal counsel, and instruct them to initiate a criminal complaint of perjury against the Minister. At the same time, we will instruct counsel to explore the possibility of a civil defamation suit against the Minister.”
The Speaker describe the House as a public trust placed in the care of the members during their term in office.
He said, “We must prove ourselves worthy of this public trust or risk the censure of history. Therefore, we will resist every attempt to undermine this institution, whether such attempts come from within or from outside. This House will live up to the highest expectations of the Nigerian people. This is our commitment, and we will not fail.”
However, the lawmakers have resolved to sue Akpabio for alleged perjury and defamation of the parliament in failing to prove that NDDC awarded contracts to them.
Meanwhile, the Senate ad hoc committee set up to unravel the alleged financial recklessness by the Interim Management Committee of the Niger Delta Development Commission has recommended its dissolution.
The panel also recommended that the NDDC should be returned to the Presidency for direct supervision.
It also said the monitoring and advisory bodies recognised by the Act which established the NDDC, should be inaugurated immediately.
It lamented the extra-budgetary spending by the IMC which it noted was affecting the people of the Niger Delta.
It noted that the Ministry of Niger Delta has no capacity to implement the forensic audit and therefore demanded that the Auditor General of the Federation should supervise the forensic audit for transparency and efficiency.
It also said the Auditor General should appoint internationally renowned audit experts to carry out the exercise.
It added that the N1.4 billion spent on COVID -19 by the IMC should be refunded to the NDDC account.
The senators are currently debating the report of the panel, presented by the Chairman, Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi.